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At 37, is this the end for Novak Djokovic – and the start of the Sinner era?

Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the French Open with a knee injury, ensuring that Jannik Sinner will become the new men’s world No.1 and a new Roland Garros champion will be crowned in Paris.

Jun 05, 2024, updated Jun 05, 2024
FILE - Serbia's Novak Djokovic receives medical assistance for his right knee during his fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, June 3, 2024. Novak Djokovic withdrew from the French Open with an injured right knee on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, ending his title defense and meaning he will relinquish the No. 1 ranking. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

FILE - Serbia's Novak Djokovic receives medical assistance for his right knee during his fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, June 3, 2024. Novak Djokovic withdrew from the French Open with an injured right knee on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, ending his title defense and meaning he will relinquish the No. 1 ranking. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

Djokovic aggravated a right knee problem during his five-set win over Francisco Cerundolo, which was reported less than 24 hours later on Tuesday to be a torn medial meniscus.

“I am really sad to announce that I have to withdraw from #rolandgarros,” Djokovic posted on social media.

“I played with my heart and gave my all in yesterday’s match and unfortunately, due to a medial meniscus tear in my right knee, my team and I had to make a tough decision after careful consideration and consultation.”

The withdrawal of the three-time champ means that Australian star Alex de Minaur, the 11th seed, would play Norwegian seventh seed Casper Ruud in Friday’s semi-finals should he beat Alexander Zverev in his quarter-final on Wednesday.

Ruud, the two-time finalist, gets a bye through to the last-four in Djokovic’s absence.

Australian Open champion Sinner, just 22, will become the first Italian world No.1 when the new rankings are unveiled next week.

After beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 6-4 7-6 (7-3) to reach the semi-finals on Tuesday, Sinner had the news of his elevation to world No.1 broken to him on court by former French star Fabrice Santoro amid a standing ovation on Court Philippe Chatrier.

“What can I say? First of all, it’s every player’s dream to be number one in the world. In the other way, seeing Novak injured is, for everyone, disappointing. so I wish him a speedy recovery,” said Sinner.

“Being No.1 means a lot to me,” said Sinner, who in the semi-finals will face a blockbuster with Carlos Alcaraz, who continued his stranglehold over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the night match by beating the Greek for the sixth straight time 6-3 7-6 (7-3) 6-4.

There was a little controversy when Tsitsipas moaned, with some reason, to the umpire during the second set tiebreak that Alcaraz had let out an “extended grunt” just as the Greek was about to hit the ball, but there could be no complaints about the brilliance yet again of the young Spaniard.

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“It’s a really difficult challenge (against Sinner), I think he’s playing the best tennis in the world right now,” said Alcaraz.

Djokovic reported on Monday that his knee problem had been bothering him for a couple of weeks before he arrived at Roland Garros.

“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow — or after tomorrow, if I’ll be able to step out on the court and play,” the 37-year-old had said. “I hope so. Let’s see what happens.”

His withdrawal means Djokovic is still without a tournament win in 2024 and his hopes of finally going past the record of 24 grand slam triumphs he currently shares with Margaret Court will have to be put on hold.

More than that, his exit offers another end-of-an era whiff, with the mighty triumvirate of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer either sidelined, beaten or retired.

And there has to be a question mark over whether Djokovic will make it to Wimbledon, which starts on July 1, or to the Paris Olympics, also at Roland Garros, on July 27.

In his comeback win over Cerundolo Djokovic, who slipped and tweaked his knee in the second set, was unhappy about the court condition, complaining it should have been cared for better to help players’ traction.

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